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Liberty Street collapse
Jax Daily Record Thursday, Feb. 26, 201512:00 PM EST

With power back on, residents can decide whether to file claims with city

by: David Chapman

Dawn and Al Emerick could do nothing but laugh.

Weeks of shuffling the family from hotel to hotel, back to their home at RiverWalk Townhomes at the Plaza and to friends’ houses finally had come to an end.

Displaced since Feb. 1 by a lack of electricity caused by the Liberty Street collapse, the Emericks made a tough decision: they broke the renter’s agreement for the riverwalk home they loved and signed up for a place in Springfield.

Dawn Emerick said the decision was made a couple of weeks ago with the thought of stability in a time of uncertainty. She said her 16-year-old son had begun to suffer in school with the moves. And they couldn’t be with the family pets — their dog, Checkers, had been boarded for weeks. Their cat manned the fort back at the townhome.

The family has maintained a sense of humor about the collapse and how it has affected them. But, the last punchline came Tuesday as Al Emerick was packing the last of the boxes.

“He called me and said, ‘Guess what just happened?’” Dawn Emerick said Wednesday.

The electricity had just come back on.

More laughs on both ends.

The gaping hole behind the old courthouse has caused officials to work at a rapid pace on two issues, city spokesman David DeCamp said.

The first was restoring the electricity to the townhomes. The second was the collapse itself — what caused it and how will it be resolved.

A collaboration between the city, JEA and Florida Department of Transportation helped resolve the first issue. The city announced Feb. 13 it would cover the costs to restore power to the homes, after homeowners repaired conduits, cables and electric meters that were damaged. Relief was pledged in within two weeks. With the help of a helicopter to replace the generator, the timeline was beat by a couple of days.

“You can’t plan for an incident like this,” said DeCamp. “Normally, that’s a 180-day project … that we were able to do in less than two weeks.”

City Council in emergency passage Tuesday approved spending $200,000 for restoration of the electricity. Public Works director Jim Robinson said the cost is about $150,000.

What the city could do with the leftover funds hasn’t been determined, but would need to be associated with the project, Robinson said.

Yet, while the power is back on, there’s still the issue of expenses those homeowners incurred.

Emerick said lodging, meals and other associated costs over the past month have approached $4,000, not counting the deposit and moving expenses for the new place.

A help line has been set up for those affected by the collapse. And the city has held many meetings with homeowners, DeCamp said, with discussion also on how they can file claims with the city to have those expenses possibly covered.

None have yet been filed, DeCamp said.

Being renters instead of owning the home makes it slightly trickier to get claims paid, Dawn Emerick said. Renters’ insurance only covered property inside the house. But, she said, they likely will still file.

“A family of four … having to stay away and eating out all the time, it was racking up some dollars,” she said.

She said that through it all, JEA was “fabulous” with its assistance. The city, too, although she wishes communication in the first couple of weeks was a little more active.

DeCamp said that is understandable, but “a lot of people spent a lot of time to get this done the right way.”

That includes council members, JEA and other officials who spent time assessing the situation and determining the best and safest way to restore power.

While the first problem of electricity is done, the hole still remains. And progress likely will seem slow, said Public Works director Jim Robinson.

Before the state transportation department can continue its inspection, debris must be demolished by the city to ensure safety.

Once it’s determined how, then the question of what kind of repairs will have to be answered, Robinson said.

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